Raonic's Thirst For Success Shows Canadians Have Lost That Loser Label
As John McEnroe pointed out on Sunday, there are a couple of ways to look at Milos Raonic’s first Grand Slam final in the moments after Andy Murray had swept him 6-4, 7-6, 7-6 at the All England Club. The irascible lefty with the trenchant tongue observed the ways to look at Raonic’s deflating finish to a spectacular Wimbledon.
First, the self-deprecating Canadian outlook: With Novak Djokovic eliminated from Raonic’s side of the draw, this was a fluke trip to the final, a high-water mark that Raonic can’t possibly achieve as long as Djokovic, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal stand in Milos’ way. So take it for what it was.
Or, you can say that Raonic has gone from a lumbering one-note server to a more balanced athletic player who just served (pun alert) notice that he’s stepped up in class. Raonic’s mentor McEnroe opined that he believed Raonic’s Wimbledon fortnight was more the latter than the former. His work ethic is immense. His will is defiant. His arc remains upward.
After working with him, Mac should know. This didn’t feel like Genie Bouchard’s one-off trip to the Wimbledon women’s final two years ago. Bouchard was still very young and emerged like a shooting star in 2014. The sudden ascension was perhaps the worst thing that could have happened to her at that age. There have been fleeting signs she might be getting her mojo back, but she’s been underwater ever since that magical run.
Raonic is something else. He’s 25. He’s transformed himself from Lurch to a well-rounded player who handled all the adversity Roger Federer could give him in the semifinals. Yes, he’s still a step below the top trio of players in the world, but tantalizingly close to the next echelon. Knowing Raonic, it would be a fool’s errand to bet against him.
There was a time when Canada would have guessed the worst about his success, of course. Canada was the bronze-medal champion, the glad-we-showed-up kings, the hope-we-didn’t-upset-you nation. We used to assume a comet like Raonic was like Halley’s—once in 75 years. We’d go nuts for Greg Joy winning a sliver in high jump or Toller Cranston getting a bronze in figure skating. Just don’t fly too close to the sun.
But things are different in Canada now, and Raonic is the latest example of that metamorphosis. What used to be bronze-medal kings now espouse Own The Podium. Led by Canada’s mens and women’s hockey teams, gold is now the only acceptable outcome for Canada’s best athletes. The hockey teams have been followed by dozens of Canadian athletes who unapologetically win gold.
While the nation has wrapped itself in political correctness, the athletes of the country don’t care whose feelings they rustle on their way to winning. It’s a startling contradiction in a time when apologies flow like Niagara Falls whenever someone wins and, most importantly to the sensitive, someone loses. We are told that we should be convulsed by the loser’s pain. Winning is seen as a kind of selfish behaviour.
But for all the social engineering going on, Canada’s fans remain front runners. They still want the vicarious thrill of cheering for Raonic at Wimbledon, Andre DeGrasse in the 100 metres or Christine Sinclair and the women’s soccer team. They don’t care who Canadians crawl over to win so long they win. That might not are politically correct, but it’s still a reality in the re-imagined world of Justin Trudeau.
It was a doubly disappointing day for Canadians on Sunday as the men’s basketball team failed to qualify for the Rio Olympics, losing a qualifying final to France in the Philippines. Going halfway around the world only to lose a bitter showdown game was tough news for Canadians in tandem with Raonic’s loss at Wimbledon.
Canadian men have had a history of disappointment in basketball since last qualifying for the Olympics in 2000. This loss was doubly disappointing as a couple of players who might have made a difference— Andrew Wiggins of Minnesota and top draft pick Jamal Murray— took a pass on this last-ditch attempt to qualify. (France’s top player Tony Parker made sure he was there.) So props to Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson, big time NBA players, who did wear the red and white. As it was they came up a just a few shots short of a trip to the Rio Games.
But as the youngest team in the FIBA tournament there is hope for a bright future. The basketball factory in Brampton, Ontario, is turning out a geyser of hoops prodigies. Canadians have lately gotten a taste of basketball success via the Raptors. It’s not inconceivable that qualifying for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo will be a formality.
And then Canadians only problem will be how to hide how much they’re enjoying ruining other people’s dreams. As if.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy
Bruce's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience with successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013).